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18 Jul, 2020 21:26

CNN’s latest massive White House scoop? Portraits of Bill Clinton & George W. Bush ‘moved to a less prominent room’

CNN’s latest massive White House scoop? Portraits of Bill Clinton & George W. Bush ‘moved to a less prominent room’

The mainstream media may finally have found its Trump card to ensure the ouster of Orange Man from the White House: the official portraits of two recent presidents have been moved from the Grand Foyer to a rarely used dining room.

As huge as this CNN scoop sounds – wink-wink – let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We may need to insert the caveat that’s so oft-used on cable news shows nowadays – “if true.” That’s the caveat that allows you to reasonably lob even the wildest allegations thinkable. In this case, “the Most Trusted Name in News” is relying on unidentified “aides” for the story. It doesn’t say what kind of aides they are. White House officials haven’t issued a response, and President Trump hasn’t tweeted on the topic.

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Let’s assume that this latest White House artwork scoop is accurate, unlike the Time magazine reporter who alleged on Trump’s inauguration day in January 2017 that a bust of civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the Oval Office. It was an easy mistake to make after the shock of seeing that the offensive Winston Churchill bust had been moved back into the room.

Even with the world seemingly coming apart around us – with riots in the streets, record floods all over the globe, a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people, and Nick Cannon still struggling to get his career back – CNN found room to blow the lid off the portrait scandal. The network even judged that the news was important enough to justify the use of anonymous sourcing.

It used to be a Herculean task to get an editor to approve a story based on the words of unidentified people. There were plenty of reasons to set a high bar. A person could have ulterior motives for slinging mud on someone, to the point that their claims could be false or misleading. Making a source stand behind his or her allegations tends to weed out some of the foul play that can go on.

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And as the New York Times ombudsman editor wrote in February 2017, unnamed sourcing can be “overused and abused,” undermining credibility with readers. Of course, that view hasn’t stopped the Times from continuing to rely heavily on unnamed people to underpin stories, especially articles that cast a negative light on Trump.

The fact that the portrait story fits the mainstream narrative surely made it too delicious for CNN to resist. And the network wasn’t an outlier in this judgment, as portrait-gate quickly became an international sensation. The Daily Mail and Agence France-Presse followed CNN with their own versions of the story (still with no named person).

The way the story was told is revealing. For instance, CNN said, “White House tradition calls for portraits of the most recent American president to be given the most prominent placement, in the entrance of the executive mansion, visible to guests during official visits.” Perhaps this is like one of those unwritten rules in baseball, such as “never try to steal a base when your team is leading by more than five runs after the sixth inning.” Or, more to the point, it’s like when those cable news commentators quote the Statue of Liberty plaque as a legally binding document, at least when it comes to matters of immigration policy.

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White House traditions can come and go, at the discretion of current management. Elections have consequences. President Gerald R. Ford ruffled some feathers when he had a pool installed on White House grounds in 1975. President Barack Obama took the liberty of moving the Churchill bust out of the Oval Office and moving in the King bust. As for Obama’s official White House portrait, it hasn’t yet been unveiled, which CNN speculates to result from bad blood between Trump and his immediate predecessor.

Another wrinkle is how CNN referred to the portraits that were allegedly moved to the Grand Foyer in place of Clinton and Bush: “those of two Republican presidents who served more than a century ago.” The story comes back later to tell us that those two men were William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

McKinley was perhaps most noteworthy for being assassinated in 1901. His accomplishments included winning the Spanish-American War, thanks largely to Roosevelt’s Rough Riders volunteer calvary, establishing the gold standard and introducing tariffs to foster US industrial growth. Roosevelt, the youngest president in American history, was popular enough to make the Mount Rushmore Four. He ranked as the fourth-best president ever in a C-SPAN survey of historians conducted in 2017. Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize, did more than anyone to expand the national park system and helped break up the trusts that had a stranglehold on the US economy.

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But in the woke reframing of history that’s going on today, Roosevelt is just another oppressive and imperialist racist who must be erased from the safe spaces of current memory. A statue of Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York was condemned for removal last month because of its racial insensitivity. It depicted Roosevelt high atop a horse rearing back, with a Native American and a black man flanking him on foot. Vandals have thrown paint more than once, most recently as anti-racism protests raged across the nation in June.

If the portraits were, in fact, moved, and if Trump himself had any hand in the decision, perhaps the president was in the mood to make a historical statement – or at least a statement that history shouldn’t be erased. Trump hated the decision to remove the Roosevelt statue, tweeting, “Ridiculous, don’t do it!”

The president has a penchant for making triggering decisions on matters that distract from bigger and more pressing priorities. As CNN showed again with its portrait story, the mainstream media is more than willing to wallow around with him on trivial tangents as the bigger news passes them by.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.